Does the age of the main characters matter?

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  • #200043
    Samantha_Kroese
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    I’m curious. I write mostly epic fantasy and I read mostly horror/thrillers/fantasy. I personally don’t factor in the age of characters as judging whether the book is for adults or children. I don’t read YA, I don’t find it entertaining for the most part. But because I write mostly in a medieval setting where ages are seen differently than they are currently I’m a bit worried. I write dark stories normally that are meant for adults. But everyone I’ve asked today said they base a lot of whether or not they think something was written for children/YA on the age of the characters in the books.

    My first book I was going to publish was a harsh medieval type world that had four boys and none of them were over 18 if I remember right but they acted more mature than a typical teenager in the current real world might. Most of my characters fall between 15 and 25, but in a medieval world that means something entirely different than it would in the current real world. 30+ would be old for that setting in my opinion, people don’t generally live to 90-100 in a harsh medieval type world like they are in the real world today.

    I really don’t want to be shelved as YA just because I write younger characters. Do I need to bump their ages to meet the current real world expectations for that age instead of what would’ve been expected of them in a medieval type world? Or is this an expectation coming from different genres?

    #216977
    Ashe Elton Parker
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    I think publishers (and you should, if you’re going Indie) consider the genre of the book before deciding whether or not it’s YA. I rarely see Fantasy novels given the YA label in addition to the Fantasy label, even if the MC(s) is (are) teens. In fact, of all the fantasy books I’ve read/seen which have teenage protagonists, I’ve found exactly all of them on the general Fantasy shelves in the bookstore (but I’ve never looked at the YA shelves, so there could be YA Fantasy I just haven’t seen).

    I think trad publishers (and any Indie author should) base their genre (Fantasy or YA or YA Fantasy) decision on what they think the book actually is, rather than the age of the characters. If you consider the book to be strictly Fantasy, and it’s dark and grim and the teenage MC faces some difficult situations and decisions, then you should sell it as a Fantasy (whether to a trad publisher or as an Indie). I think readers of Fantasy are adept at accepting a more “mature” teenage character and understand such characters fit the “era” or background given the world in the work.

    Ashe Elton Parker
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    #216981
    Samantha_Kroese
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    I like that explanation. I write a lot of dark Fantasy lately, or Fantasy with Horror elements so the thought of being shoved in YA just because my character is 15 instead of 20 was a little worrying. Or losing readers because people see oh this is about a teen it must be YA. Out of the five people I asked today 4 said they would think a teen/child protag meant the book was for kids. But I didn’t ask about genre I just asked in general so they may or may not be avid fantasy readers or the other genres where younger protags grow up/mature much faster.

    I could make them a bit older if I must but then it bothers me personally as an author because the world they’re in would have meant they matured faster and were facing adult issues much sooner than someone today might be.

    #216984
    Samantha_Kroese
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    So…my friend who is a librarian said the youngest protagonists in adult fiction are generally around 22 years old and anything under that could be classified as YA regardless of content or genre. Even in Fantasy novels she said a lot of them that were clearly written for adults are stuck in the YA section because they have characters that are 17-18 years old.

    Does anyone here write or read historical fiction where the ages for adults would be considered much lower than modern day? How would you handle that then? As someone who used to read everything I could get my hands on of non-fiction about the Medieval period making characters wait around until they’re 22 to be in an adult story doesn’t seem realistic to me even on a fantasy world. But the overwhelming response I’ve been getting is that if they’re any younger than that people write it off as YA (which makes me a little terrified as to what could be lurking in YA that was never meant to be there).

    #216978
    Weird Jim
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    Twice I’ve come across articles that say some older readers are going for YA for ,as yet, unknown reasons. Therefore, you may attract some older readers. However, I think for the most part, readers in their early twenties prefer to read older, but not much older characters. Some young readers definitly like to read older; perhaps so they can fantasise themselves as older.

    Why anybody reads fiction is a tough question to answer, so therefore it’s hard to decide who your reader will be. If your 18 year old is acting like a 25 year old, then I would say to make him 25 years old. Why do you have them at 18 in the first place? Oh, yes, because of the short lifetime in the Medieval world.

    I think you may be underestimating the Medieval Times ages. Yes a lot of them died early, but a lot of them lasted much longer. Violence killed many early. Childbirth took many women, many children died young, but large numbers lived to at least middle age. The Black Death spared many. Three score and ten is said to be the span of a human life. It’s a bit longer these days, but not that much. (I’m on bonus time.) Part of the increase in lifespan is down to fewer deaths among babies and young children

    I read Herodotus over Christmas. The age at which many leaders died surprised me.

    It would need to be a very compelling story for me to read about teenagers unless that age was essential to the story, whereas I have no problem with MCs over, say, 25.

    #216993
    Samantha_Kroese
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    Thanks. :)

    I was more considering the age they were considered adults. 18 wasn’t the legal adult age then, a lot of women were married off at 12-13 for instance, there wasn’t really a ‘teen’ age, you were a child or you were an adult as far as I can remember. To be honest though I haven’t kept up on research for a while it just got set in my head that those were the appropriate age frames.

    I’m in my 30s and I really don’t pay any attention to the age of the characters when I read, it’s how they act and how they’re written that’s important to me as a reader. I can’t stand whiny teens but I recently read a novel with a young man in it that was autistic and he was far more fascinating than the two adult characters that were with him. So to find out there is a definite line for most other readers of what they will read as far as age and what they won’t really surprised me. I had never even thought it would be a factor unless it was incredibly important to the story what age they were. It also made me wonder if I should start looking around in the YA section for fantasy novels since I’m sure I’m not the only author that chose that age group in that genre.

    I have what I personally feel is an extremely graphic disturbing novel that I wrote that had a young protagonist in it. The thought of handing this over to my young nephews to read disturbs me. I don’t write with that audience in mind. I write situations geared for adult readers who could handle more graphic or disturbing content so I guess in the end the characters are acting like adults. So I personally will be bumping the ages up on all my characters because the only reason it mattered that they were younger was I felt it was unrealistic for them to be older in that setting. Since the overwhelming response has been no one will read about them if they’re younger except kids I would prefer didn’t read them that seems to be my only choice. I don’t mind if teens are surfing the adult fiction and pick up my books; I certainly did that a lot when I was that age. But the problem of adults not giving my work a chance because the character is a certain age is something I don’t want to risk. I certainly don’t think I have the secret ingredient that made adults flood to Harry Potter or Hunger Games or Twilight. :)

    #216979
    romanticallyfantastic
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    I think that you’re right in thinking that younger people acted in a more mature manner in those times, had more responsibilities in lots of ways, and were considered “adult” when they hit puberty. So, I don’t think you’re out of line writing them that way. What I’m thinking of right off the bat when you mention fantasy is the Game of Thrones series. Now, I only read a large chunk of the first book (it was NOT my thing), but that book is about children. And it’s clearly an adult book. I think the young girl who was sold off to a barbarian king by her brother was what- 13? and Martin wrote about their wedding night.

    #216980
    Soren_Ringh
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    It’s funny you bring up this topic because I’ve been considering concentrating on YA, at least for my novels. So, I’ve been trying to familiarize myself with the genre. In particular the YA part, not the subgenres of middle school or children’s.

    Ugh! This is harder than I thought. I looked up lists so as I could read some of the more well known YA novels out there, and frankly I was a bit surprised by some of the books that others would group in the genre. One pf the lists was the poll that NPR took I believe last August. Here is a link:

    http://www.npr.org/2012/08/07/157795366/your-favorites-100-best-ever-teen-novels

    There are crossing of genre’s of course. Setting can make a story a fantasy or SF, while tone and theme along with age of the MC’s, and the authors target audience can simultaneously have it fall into another genre. So would a publisher recommend a book not only to adults, but teens as well?

    What is the golden rule will always change, especially in these fast-changing times. Access to information is easy to acquire or be exposed to. I think the writer has to consider theme and the target audience when trying to classify where there story may end up being classified under.

    What if the story were a movie? Would it get an R rating or a PG? If PG, is it coming from a teen or younger pov with problems a teen could identify with? For now, that’s the easiest way for me to think about whether my story crosses the boundary from YA to a more darker form of another genre.

    #217008
    Samantha_Kroese
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    Interesting, thanks for the link.

    I was using that to judge mine too, comparing them to movie content and what it would be rated, regardless of the character age. So I told my librarian friend about the novel I wrote that I would think would be too graphic and she still said it would likely go in YA even though the things in it to me would make it R rated if it were a movie.

    The thing about Game of Thrones is it had no ‘main’ character and a lot of the characters are adult. If the story had been -just- Dany and Drogo (the child bride and the barbarian) my friend is confident it would be in the YA section despite the sex and all the other concerns with child brides. So that’s really what is disturbing me she said there’s no holds barred in the YA section anymore.

    I think the most confusing thing is when comparing to movies we have horror and all sorts of horrific stories involving young characters and they’re rated R and clearly for adults but most adults skip books that have younger characters and write them off as children’s tales. That’s what I’m not understanding why someone could watch an R rated movie about a young character and consider it adult but not a book.

    And then the line blurs further if you have more than one character. If the lead character is young then it goes into YA as far as my friend’s library is concerned. But if there’s several leads and only a few are young like Game of Thrones that goes into Adult. Then if it’s a smaller mix, one young lead and a couple adults or vice versa it depends. So while this is all fascinating to me and I had no idea about it I’m finding it very frustrating to pin down.

    #217042
    silvara
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    I am the youth fiction selector for my library, which includes purchasing for young adults. When I am considering if a book is best put in the adult vs. the young adult section of the library, the ages of the main characters are only a small factor. Reviews matter a great deal, and if the story is extremely dark or clearly aimed towards adults, I will often refer to it the adult selector.

    Sometimes it is hard to decide where a book should be shelved, but mostly I am looking at who the book is being marketed for. So for me, if your book with teen characters is marketed as an adult fantasy, I would likely leave it for the adult selector to purchase, unless a large number of local teens were looking for the book.

    Really, every librarian or library is going to have a different take on selecting and how to catalog and shelve materials. Just because one library would most likely shelve it with YA doesn’t mean all or even most libraries would.

    #217606
    Samantha_Kroese
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    Thank you for the input! That’s very good to know. :)

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